Teaching Glass

Who is qualified to teach/train in a TAA?

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With the advent of the new glass cockpits, a lot of thought went into the kind of training that would be necessary to adequately prepare a pilot to safely utilize these more sophisticated systems. The FAA worked with the general aviation industry to put together a set of standards for glass cockpit training. The original idea was that any instructor who wanted to train others on a glass cockpit aircraft would have to go through the certified factory school.

Time has passed and along with the growing number of airplanes equipped with glass cockpits, there is a growing controversy about who should be allowed to train in a glass cockpit aircraft, now referred to as a Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA). On one side are those who feel strongly that only factory or insurance company authorized instructors should be able to instruct in a TAA. On the other side are people like CFI David Dewhirst, who wrote in the first quarter 2007 AOPA Air Safety Foundation Instructor Report that, "any seasoned instructor is perfectly capable of taking an airplane flight manual ... and creating a training program."

I got involved in the process when I was one of the first local pilots trained by the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) for the new C-182 with a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit that our squadron in Payson, Arizona, received. The CAP approached the issue by requiring two instructors from each squadron about to receive a new Cessna to travel to the Cessna factory to receive the week-long factory authorized training and thus become factory certified instructors. Those instructors then trained and certified other pilots and instructors. The CAP decided that an instructor who has been trained by a factory-trained instructor can instruct other CAP pilots, but only a check pilot who has given at least 25 hours of instruction in a G1000 equipped airplane or who has been flying the G1000 equipped C-182 for over a year can give pilots check rides in that airplane.

So what should it take to be an instructor in a technically advanced aircraft? When you boil it all down, being a pilot requires four skills: the ability to physically manipulate the controls to make the airplane do what you want it to do; the ability to access the information necessary to plan and conduct a flight; the ability to process that information to make it useable; and finally, the good judgment to make the right decisions based on the available information. While each type of airplane has its own particular flight characteristics, the general flight characteristics of certified aircraft are very similar, and technically advanced aircraft do not exhibit any significantly different flight characteristics from other certified airplanes. The ability to process information necessary for a flight and the judgment to use that information is also the same for any type of aircraft. So the only difference for a pilot operating a TAA is how that information is accessed.

In many ways a TAA makes accessing the information much easier. In a round dial airplane (RDA), in order to determine his current position, the pilot has to tune in two VORs, center the needles on two OBSs, then pull out the sectional and mentally or physically plot the approximate location of the airplane, which has already moved since the needles were centered. Or, if the airplane has DME, the pilot can go through a similar process using one VOR along with the distance from that VOR. In a TAA, the pilot simply looks at the little airplane on the screen and immediately knows his exact location, along with the location of all controlled and restricted airspace, airports, cities, roads and weather. It doesn't get much simpler than that!

So operating a TAA all boils down to accessing information and, in some cases, entering information. And all that entails is studying the system and practicing until you know how to use it. It is not necessary to learn how to use every possible function on a TAA. When our Civil Air Patrol squadron received its brand new G1000 equipped Cessna 182T, it was initially suggested that any pilot who wanted to get checked out in the new airplane needed to demonstrate competency in all the functions and features of the G1000. My immediate reaction was, "Why on earth would we do that?" I pointed out that many of our pilots are not instrument rated and most of our CAP missions are visual missions at low altitude.

Pilots who only want to fly VFR need to know what every button and knob does, how to preflight the equipment, how to find all the basic VFR information, how to use the Nearest Page and the Direct To operations, how to operate the autopilot, and how to enter, activate and follow a flight plan. Only instrument-rated pilots who want to fly the airplane in instrument conditions would need to demonstrate the ability to initiate, change, fly and terminate an instrument approach.

Even the instrument-rated pilots don't have to be proficient with every capability of the system. For example, the G1000 allows a pilot to call up the airport information and then program the radios automatically from that page. However, it works just as well to input the frequency manually, and that is how I prefer to do it. As long as a pilot can accomplish all the necessary functions, I don't think it really matters which of several ways he uses to get the job done.

I agree with David Dewhirst that any certified instructor should be capable of learning a new type of system and then taking the airplane flight manual and creating a training program. Most instructors are very professional and would not dream of instructing in an airplane until they are fully familiar with that airplane and all its systems. The problem is that there are instructors who will instruct in an aircraft they are not familiar with without taking the time to familiarize themselves with the airplane and its systems, and there is no way to legislate against such practices. At the very least this is unprofessional and results in less than adequate instruction for the student. At worst this practice can be very dangerous for both the instructor and the student.

What everyone seems to be missing in the discussion on training in TAA is that the real issue is currency. The level of complexity in accessing information in a TAA requires a pilot, and especially an instructor, to use that equipment on a regular basis. Even a factory-trained instructor who has not flown a TAA for many months will find himself very rusty when it comes to smoothly operating the equipment, let alone instructing someone else in its operation. For example, the CAP regulations would allow an instructor to get checked out in the new C-182 by a factory-trained instructor, not fly it again for a year, but still be considered competent to certify other pilots in the airplane at that point.

This illustrates the futility of trying to write rules for every possible situation. At some point we have to trust instructors to do the right thing and be fully familiar with the equipment before giving instruction or a check ride in it. Whether this requires a week of intense study and practice before giving instruction on a TAA for the first time, or an hour to review the procedures after not using the equipment for several months, every instructor should do what is required to prepare himself adequately for that training.